Conscious Contact

I memorized the Third Step prayer in preparation for taking the Third Step with my sponsor. We got down on our knees together, held hands, and repeated the prayer. As I listened to the prayer come out of my mouth I realized I didn’t believe a word I was saying. It felt like I had my fingers crossed behind my back. I shared this with Larry. He suggested I say the prayer anyways because it pleases God when we pray.

My prayers for most of the next twenty years have been “thank you” prayers. Just after switching off the light next to my bed, I close my eyes and say, “Thank you God for a beautiful day.” Saying the prayer became ingrained. I recall one night ten or fifteen years ago. That day my wife underwent a major surgery. She survived the surgery, but it was a difficult day filled with tension. I got into bed exhausted, turned out the light and said my thank you prayer. A voice in my head said, “how can you say it has been a beautiful day?” Another voice responded, “I don’t know how I can say it, but I can. Now shut up and go to sleep!”

I’m coming to believe every thought is a prayer and every prayer is answered. Every thought is either a recovery thought or a relapse thought. I’m no longer baffled on the days when life goes sideways. I know I’m allowing self-centered thoughts to run my head. These fearful, angry and selfish thoughts separate me from you and God. The only solution I’ve found for thinking about me is to think about you. Fortunately, I have a whole toolbox full of tools to help me reconnect. I get to a meeting. I talk with another alcoholic about what’s going on. I pick up the phone and call a couple of newcomers. Sometimes I need to pray for the willingness to take these actions.

My primary Eleventh Step practice today is hiking alone in nature with my cell phone turned off. My senses come alive when I am out on the trails in the midst of raw beauty. I hear the sounds of the birds and the critters rustling in the underbrush. I see the hawks wafting overhead looking for dinner. I smell the heady fragrance of the native plant life. I feel my heart pounding inside my chest after a taxing uphill climb. I become aware I am connected to all there is. This, to me, is conscious contact.


I consider my alcoholism to be a blessing. It sounds funny to say that, but I don't know how I could have traveled from where I was to where I am today without having this life threatening disease that was going to kill me unless I treated it spiritually. I was too committed to my own ideas, my own grand plans and schemes. It was only because I had no other choice. God made it baby simple for me: change or die.

I do not regret the past. I had to drink every drink, tell every lie, and endure every humiliating experience to find my bottom. One less of anything and I might have missed grace, that moment when it was clear that there was a softer, easier way through life than the way I was going. Back then I wasn't thinking about the promise of a better life, I only wanted the pain to go away -- the pain of frustration and confusion, the pain of resentment, the pain of self-hate, the pain of isolation. Today I spend very little time in fear, anger, or guilt. Like our book says, I enjoy a new freedom and a new happiness.

I am no longer baffled when a painful situation arises. Today when I lose my peace I know it is because I am trying to impose my self-centered version of reality on life instead of accepting Life exactly as it is. Pain must result whenever I cannot accept a person or circumstance in my life because, in essence, I am rejecting God's plan. I am forgetting that life is unfolding exactly as it supposed to and each of us is in exactly the right place for our highest and best good. If life were supposed to be any different than it is, it would be.

Recovered or Recovering?

Yesterday our leader shared from the Dr's Opinion that alcoholics must undergo an "essential" psychic change or else we will probably drink again. I remembered the quote as an "entire" psychic change. So I grabbed a  Big Book and checked it out. To my surprise, I found that both "essential" and "entire" were used to describe psychic change. They are only words, but their meanings have more significance for me then the words "recovered" and "recovering".

I experienced an essential psychic change when my thinking shifted just enough for the obsession to drink to be removed. I usually refer to this experience as a spiritual awakening. I have not yet experienced an "entire psychic change". In my mind this means a complete emptying out of all
beliefs. Not only all of my so-called bad ideas, but all the good ones too. Eastern religions describe this state of complete emptiness as enlightenment. I believe that until I experience an entire psychic change, there's always a chance I will drink again. Perhaps this is why the long term recovery rate in our program is so low. I understand only a very few humans achieve enlightenment. I hope I never forget that recovery is a life long, never-ending process. There is no finish line.

A while back a member shared a metaphor that helps me realize the difference between recovered and recovering. He said, "you can recover from a gunshot wound, but that does not make you immune to bullets." I have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body but I could always go back there if I let up on my program of action.

Hooked on AA

I had been standing on the outside of life looking in for as long as I could remember. I was not a joiner. Other people were just too much trouble. I’d spent the last eight months unemployed and drinking at home in almost complete isolation. Now here I was making my way up the back steps to La Jolla Presbyterian Church to attend my first AA meeting and get my little card signed from the treatment center.

I was early. Will C, the secretary, greeted me. When he found out I was new his eyes lit up. He loaded me up with pamphlets. He introduced me to the twenty or so other members as they arrived, telling them I was new. Each welcomed me warmly. During the meeting, Will circulated a meeting schedule booklet. The members put their names and phone numbers in the back. After the readings Big Al was the first to share. He was outraged that his daughter’s therapist had convinced her that Al had molested her as a child. I was forty seven years old and never before had I heard anyone speak so honestly about anything so painful. It blew me away! While driving home I remember thinking that something special just happened. I didn’t know what it was, but I was sure I was going to go back next week and find out.

My second meeting, Mt. Soledad Men’s, was a few days later. Seventy guys tanked up on caffeine and testosterone at 9:30 in the morning. I sat in the back. When I put up my hand as a newcomer, the men seated around me extended their hands in welcome. After the readings came the birthday
celebrations. Candles were lit and as each celebrant came to the front with their sponsors the men sang a raucous version of Happy Birthday. I couldn’t help but sing along. I don’t remember too much about what was said that morning, but I identified with one man who shared when he had a couple of drinks he couldn't stop. I couldn't stop either. After the meeting a number of the men came up and welcomed me with handshakes and pats on the back. Larry J, who would become my first sponsor, said, “Some of us go to Harry’s for breakfast after the meeting, why don’t you come along.” I said, “I’d really like to, but I’m very busy this morning.’ He gave me a knowing (you are full of crap) smile and said, “I’m sure you are busy, Jeff, but why don’t you come along anyways?” An unseen hand pushed me to the breakfast with five or six other members. I remember laughing, really laughing, for the first time in years. Driving home from breakfast I had the feeling I had finally found my way home after a long painful journey.

A few months later Father Bill W led our meeting. At the time Father Bill was sober for twenty fives year and a Catholic priest for thirty. He had a wonderful Irish lilt and great sense of humor and dropped the occasional F-bomb that kept us all in stitches. He wrapped up his powerful story by
saying that he learned more about spirituality in AA than he had learned in all his years in the Catholic church. Wow! Then, at 90 days sober, the men elected me “doughnut guy”. It felt like I had just won the Nobel Prize! I was hooked.

I went to over 400 meetings in my first year and put myself in the center of Alcoholics Anonymous. There I discovered the God of my own misunderstanding. I have stayed in the center ever since, through thick and thin. AA continues to be my most favorite thing to do.

Taking It to the Street

A few months ago I went out to dinner with some Chinese friends, Jeannie and James, who supported my wife spiritually during her last days. Like my wife, they are both very active Christians.

During dinner, they asked me why I didn't drink and I had the chance to explain a little bit about Alcoholics Anonymous. James choked up when he told me his brother had recently died of alcoholism at a relatively young age. They could not understand why he could not stop drinking even when he knew he was dying.

I told them their brother had no choice. He had the disease of alcoholism and it was not his fault he had it. I explained the allergy and the obsession. I told them that alcoholics cannot stop drinking on willpower alone. We learn to rely on a higher power--God as we understand God. I sensed that learning their brother had a disease gave them a huge sense of relief.

They asked me about the AA program and explained the 12 steps. They seemed quite interested so I emailed them a copy of How It Works later that evening and made myself available if there is a future need.

Carrying the message to Jeanie and James felt just as good as it does when I'm sharing inside the rooms.